Address by Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Frank Anthony at the World Forum for Ethics in Business

Changing paradigms in a pandemic world: How to regain trust?

Allow me to thank the World Forum for Ethics in Business to invite me to speak on the changing paradigms in a pandemic world on how to regain trust, health, happiness, and ethics.

Pandemics are nothing new; from antiquity to the present, they are many examples of the ongoing battle between humans and disease-causing microbes. This pandemic differs from previous pandemics because of the global interconnectivity, spread became much easier, and within a short period, almost all countries in the world were affected. The pandemic’s effects were further compounded by the misinformation, which constantly swirls around social media creating fear and distrust.

It is against this backdrop that countries tried to slow the spread of transmission with a range of measures such as masking, social distancing and, in its most extreme form, total lockdowns. For those who were infected, home or institutional isolation were available for the mild cases. Hospitals and ICU beds were reprioritized for moderate to severe cases.

Depending on the stringency of the measures taken and the effectiveness of how it was deployed, different countries have weathered the impact of the pandemic differently, with some countries having more cases and deaths than others. The crisis is far from over, as the emergence of new variants, relaxing some of the earlier public measures, and other factors have now created a third global wave and, in others a fourth wave of increasing cases and deaths.

On the economic side, securing people’s livelihoods has become quite challenging; many businesses have gone under. Many persons have lost their jobs, and there isn’t any safety net to prevent the most vulnerable from slipping into further poverty. Oxfam has estimated that more than one billion persons have plunged into poverty because of COVID 19. Global trade and supplies chains have been disrupted, and the disparity between poor and rich countries has become more pronounced. This is the pandemic world that COVID 19 has created.

To exit the pandemic and return to normalcy, a lot of hope has been placed on vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics. Vaccines offer the hope of reaching herd immunity and thereby containing the spread of the disease. Unfortunately, vaccine nationalism has distorted the supply and deployment of vaccines.

According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, titled from vaccine nationalism to vaccine equity, “our current global vaccination rates of roughly 6.7 million doses per day translate to herd immunity (70 to 85% of the population having received a two-dose vaccine) in approximately 4.6 years. Vaccine distribution remains non-existent in many of the poorest countries, and experts anticipate that 80% of the population in low resource setting will not receive a vaccine this year.”

While the article calculates that it will take 4.6 years to get to an epidemiological end of this pandemic, many rich countries are on target to reach herd immunity by the end of 2021. There is uncertainty about when poorer countries will get there. The theme for this year’s world health day is building a fairer and healthier world. To do so, we urgently need to close the vaccine gap between rich and developing countries. Failure to do so will create more opportunities for the emergence of variants, reinfections, and new forms of discrimination between vaccinated and non-vaccinated.

The urgency of the times demand that we not only advocate but we take concrete actions to make a difference, such as

  • Expedited approvals and Emergency Use Listings of vaccines by the WHO
  • COVAX needs to go beyond 20% for 2021.
  • Improving logistics of moving vaccines promptly.
  • Richer countries that have secure surplus vaccines should share with poorer countries
  • Therapeutics (monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies) that are given EUA and have passed the clinical trials should be shared with poorer countries to enhance treatment options.
  • A global system to track variants, enhancing access to gene sequencing for poorer countries.

I hope that organizations such as the World Forum for Ethics in Business would help shift the prevailing attitude from vaccine nationalism to vaccine equity, where all countries can race to herd immunity in the shortest possible time.

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